Principles for Dental Practices to Practice By

Oct. 1, 2007
As a seasoned dental practice management consultant, I have come to the realization that a happy, productive and profitable practice is built on principles.

by Art Hanneman, MHRM

As a seasoned dental practice management consultant, I have come to the realization that a happy, productive and profitable practice is built on principles. These principles, when practiced, seem to guide things into place.

Without principles to guide the performance and behavior of both staff and doctor, chaos invariably erupts, and often becomes the order of the day. Over the years I’ve developed a list of principles that have assisted offices tremendously in their performance, productivity and positive interactions with each other and their patients.

1) The doctor should not talk money. The doctor should not collect money.
2) The doctor should not initiate a conversation regarding cosmetic dentistry. Allow your staff to do that. Remember, it is optional treatment. Your patients know that and they know you know that.
3) When talking cosmetic dentistry always hand your patient a mirror, put on gloves and turn on the light: it’s show time!
4) Have a cancellation policy and enforce it lovingly.
5) All staff members should promote your services by saying: “If you have family, friends or associates who need a dentist, please let us know how we can help.”
6) Every one of your patients should schedule their next appointment before they leave. If they tell you that they do not have their calendar with them or they do not know what they will be doing in six months, schedule them anyway. Otherwise you risk losing them. Let them know that, and remind them that they can always change their appointment once they get home and look at their calendar.
7) Remember, the only caring method for keeping track of every single one of your patients is by having each one of them schedule their next appointment for either treatment or hygiene before they leave.
8) When scheduling hygiene appointments, give patients the same day and time, just six months later. Don't spend valuable time trying to decide when and which day. Remember, you're trying to help your patients develop healthy four-to six-month hygiene habits: same time, same day, and same month every four to six months. Doing this makes it so much easier for them to schedule and remember their next hygiene appointment.
9) Every patient schedules. Every patient pays.
10) Instead of using the words “schedule” or “appointment” with patients, say “reserve” instead. Schedules and appointments are associated with breaking and canceling. Reservations we keep
11) Never hire someone based on skills and experience alone. It is a lot easier to train someone to acquire the necessary skills for either the back or the front, than it is to train someone in the art of human kindness, friendliness, cooperation and teamwork on which you base your practice.
12) The doctor should call a few patients at the end of each workday to see how they’re doing. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
13) Each staff member should write a caring “It was good to see you and talk to you” note each week. It keeps our purpose fresh in everyone’s mind.
14) As you’re treating your patient, always communicate in a caring tone what you’ll be doing next.
15) When you need to move your patient’s head, touch his or her face gently while communicating kindly the direction to turn. Tenderness in dentistry is best communicated through your hands and your touch.
16) Remember, 55 percent of our communication is non-verbal.
17) While treating your patient always ask: “How are you doing?”
18)Compliment your patients.

19) Say “please” and “thank you” numerous times throughout the day.
20) When answering the phone, always answer with a friendly salutation and perfect enunciation; 37 percent of your communication is tone and inflection.
21) Do not mail out monthly statements.
22) You should not have collections or money problems.
23) Always review and solidify treatment, finances, financial arrangements and insurance first, then have your patient sign for approval before starting treatment.
24) Don’t let the collection of money be the last interaction between you and your patient. Collect money according to prior financial arrangements made either before your patient sits for treatment, or while your patient waits for treatment in the operatory.
25) When collecting money for services rendered, do not ask, “Would you like to pay today?” or say, “We’ll bill you.” Payment due today does not offer “yes” or “no” options. Rather, in a kind tone and with caring eye contact, say, “Mrs. Jones, your treatment today was a root canal on tooth #__, so today’s payment is $__. Will you be paying by check, cash or credit card? Thank you!”
26) When making payment arrangements, offer three methods:
A. Reduced fee for services (RFFS): a reduced fee is available if the patient agrees to pay everything up-front the day treatment begins. (Note: Please do not use the word discount when offering a reduced fee. It sounds cheap and cheapens our profession.)
B. CareCredit: payment transpires between the patient and the “CareCredit” financial institution.
C. Pay as services are rendered.

27)Make financial arrangements, prior to beginning treatment. Arrangements should clearly detail each party’s responsibilities and deadlines and state that all payment is collected the day of treatment completion.
28) There should never be fingerprints, bloodstains, dust, cobwebs, carpet stains or overflowing trashcans anywhere in your practice. Never overlook cleanliness.
29) Always have an immaculate, pleasant-smelling bathroom for your patients and staff.
30) Reward your staff according to individual performance and contribution. Handing out bonuses across the board undermines the motivation of those who really worked for it.
31) Everybody wants to do a good job. Nobody shows up for work wanting to do poorly. Unfortunately, people have not been taught, shown or told caringly, effectively, and patiently what a good job is or what a good job looks like.

32) Annual reviews are unreasonable! Imagine if the only feedback you received as a student regarding your performance for the entire school year came on the last day of school?
33) Reassure your staff members numerous times throughout the day how valuable they are to you, your practice and your patients.
34) Always have goals. Hold your staff accountable to their individual performance goals and the contribution they are expected to make to your practice. Remember, goals force us to perform more efficiently and more effectively for those we serve.
35) Trust your staff. Have faith that they can perform, and speak highly of each of them. I guarantee that if you treat them as contributors, they will perform their jobs astonishingly well!
36) Never speak negatively or sarcastically to other staff members regarding another staff member, especially behind his or her back. This is poisonous and will only create an ugly, divisive environment that is untrusting, disrespectful and irritable. If something needs to be said to correct or counsel a fellow staff member, do so privately, kindly and respectfully.
37) If you are wondering why your office seems negative, unhappy and contentious, then take a look in the mirror.
38) Leadership: You are a leader. Remember, the best and most effective way to lead is to see yourself as one who humbly and graciously serves others. “To lead is to serve and to serve is to lead.”

These principles are standards, beliefs that serve to govern performance and behavior as we serve one another and our patients. With these principles in mind, we become more aware of our role in the practice as a professional and the need to act and perform at a more quality and caring level of performance for the benefit of our patients and each other.

Arthur Hannemann, MHRM, is CSO of Pacific Potential, LLC of Hawaii, providing Practice Management Consulting and Leadership Coaching to dentists all over. As the managing partner of a large dental practice he developed the successful “Contribution Management” system, helping turn practices around. For more information, call (808) 293-7260 or e-mail [email protected].

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